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The dissolution of gold from roasted pyrite

by A. O. FILMER*, Ph.D.
A stu.dy of the dissolution of gold from a pyrite concentrate and from various calcines is reported. The percentage
extraction of gold was found to decrease with increasing sulphur content in the material leached because of the
por~sity of the m~terials, and parti~ularly. because of.t~e passi~atio~ of the anodic dissolution of gold when the gold
was In contact with other conducting minerals. This ISexplained In terms of the current-potential curves for the
oxidation of gold and the reduction of dissolved oxygen.
Daar word verslag gedoen oor die oplossing van goud uit 'n pirietkonsentraat en uit verskillende kalsiene. Daar is
gevind.da~ die persen~asie go~dekstra~ afneem met'n toenemende swawelinhoud in die materiaal wat geloog word
vanw~e die po.reusheld van die ~aterlale .en veral omdat die anodiese oplossing van goud gepassiveer is waar die
goud In aanraklng met ander geleldende mlnerale was. Dit word verklaar in terme van die stroompotensiaalkrommes
vir die oksidasie van goud en die reduksie van opgeloste suurstof.

Introduction calcines are the roasting temperature 1,2, the residual

Gold that occurs in association with pyrite or arseno- sulphur in the calcine3, and the degree of sulphation of
pyrite is often not amenable to extraction by cyanida- the calcine4. The poor extractions obtained at high
tion. For this reason, several plants for the recovery of roasting temperatures are thought to be due to the
gold include flotation of a sulphide concentrate and sintering of the particles, resulting in physical encapsula-
roasting of this material at 700 to 850C. tion of the gold. The effects of residual sulphur on the
The reactions that take place can be expressed as extraction of gold during leaching has been attributed
follows: to a number of factors. These include the consumption of
FeS2 + 11-02 - -tFe203+ 2S02 . . . . . (1) oxygen in the leaching solution by reactions like those
expressed in equations (8) and (9), Le. the consumption
FeAsS + ~02
This treatment
-!-Fe203 + -tAS2O3 + S02 (2)
the gold, making it more
of cyanide by the same reactions, incomplete formation
of the porous oxide structure during roasting (which
amenable to extraction, and produces sulphur dioxide, means that less gold is exposed to the leaching solution),
which can be converted into sulphuric acid. The roasting and the formation of a film of reaction products on the
of the sulphide is a complex reaction, and several inter- surface of the partially leached gold thus causing
mediate materials are formed during the process. These passivation.
FeS + 6 CN - + 2 O2 - Fe(CN)~- + SO~- . . (8)
are expressed in equations (3) to (7)
FeS + ~02 -
(3) S20~- + CN - + 1- O2 - SON - + SO~-
No reasons have been proposed for the effect of sulpha-
... (9)

tFe304 + d02
-tFe304 + S02
. . (5)
tion roasting on the subsequent gold extraction.
ever, the lower roasting temperature
appears to be ~he
S02 + -!-02 - S03 (7) principal factor affecting the subsequent dissolution of
Since not all the particles are at equilibrium during the gold.
the roasting process, a mixture of these products might The dissolution of gold in cyanide media is known to
be obtained. To maximize the production of sulphuric be due to an electrochemical reaction. The anodic
acid, the sulphur content of the calcine must be reduced
to a minimum, but the roaster must operate under a Au + 2 CN- -
reaction is the dissolution of gold,
Au(CN)- + e-, . . . . . .(10)
whereas the cathodic reaction is the reduction of oxygen,
slight deficiency of oxygen to prevent the formation of
sulphur trioxide. The gold extractions from the resulting O2 + 2 H2O + 4e- -+ 40H-, . . . . . . . . (11)
calcine were found to increase with the degree of oxida- The anodic reaction has been studied extensively and
tion. In plant practice, a compromise is reached between was reviewed fairly recently5. It will therefore not be
the production of sulphuric acid and of gold, a calcine dealt with in detail in this paper. Instead, the combina-
being produced that contains predominantly hematite tion of the two half-reactions and their effects upon each
with some magnetite. The reasons for the poor gold other during the reactions will be discussed.
extraction from incompletely roasted calcines have not
been established conclusively, and form the subject of Experimental
this paper. A sample of pyrite concentrate and calcine from a local
Factors that affect the extractability of gold from gold mine were used in this study, and several partially
roasted calcines were produced at the National Institute
* Formerly of the National Institute for Metallurgy-now the for Metallurgy, now the Council for Mineral Technology
Council for Mineral Technology (Mintek); now of CRA (Mintek). The analyses of these materials are given in
Research Laboratories, P.G. Box 42, Boolaroo, N.S.W.,
Australia. Table 1. All the other materials used in the study were
@ 1982. of chemically pure grade or better.

TABLE I was found to decrease with increasing sulphur content
ANALYSIS OF MATERIALS USED IN THIS STUDY (Table II). The possible reasons for this phenomenon will
be discussed in turn, and a combination of physical
Material Analysis encapsulation and electrochemical passivation proposed
Sulphur Gold to cxplain the behaviour.
% p.p.m. Consumption of Cyanide
Pyrite concentrate 43 3,56
The leaching of a partially roasted calcine results in a
Calcine 0,10 4,35 much higher consumption of cyanide than does the
Partially roasted calcine A 13,5 4,02 leaching of the completely roasted material (Table Ill).
Partially roasted calcine B 6,7 4,10
Only a slight excess of cyanide is used in plant practice,
and this has been postulated as the reason for the low
Roasting gold extractions. In these experiments, however, a large
The pyrite concentrates were roasted in a continuous excess of cyanide was used; hence the consumption of
fluosolids roaster 6 inches in diameter. The contents of cyanide is not the principal reason for the poor extrac-
the roaster were heated externally by a gas flame to tions.
7000, and the overflow from the bed was collected for TABLE III
this study. The extent of oxidation of the calcines was EFFECT OF CYANIDE CONSUMPTION ON THE EXTRACTION OF GOLD
varied by the alteration of the flowrate of air in relation Leaching conditions
Solids: 50g CaO: 2,5g H2O: 100ml Time: 24h
to that of the concentrate.
The solids were leached in open 2-litre bottles. Reagents
I Initial Final Gold
Material NaCN NaCN extrac-
were placed in the bottles, which were then rolled for the tion
appropriate time at approximately 8 r/min. The slurry % % %
was then filtered, and the residue was washed with Calcine 2,5 2,25 82
copious quantities of water. Calcine 0,25 0,13 82
Partially roasted calcine A 2,57 1,71 28
A gold rod of 8 mm diameter and of greater purity
than 99,9 per cent was sealed in a Teflon rod and con- Consumption of Oxygen
nected to the normal rotating-electrode assembly. A Under certain conditions, the dissolution of gold from
potentiostat (Princeton Applied Research Model 371), the calcine can be controlled by the rate of reduction of
an X-Y recorder (Hewlett Packard Model 7046A), and oxygen. Depletion in the concentration of oxygen may
a speed controller and sweep generator constructed at therefore result in a decrease in the rate of dissolution of
Mintek were used. Potentials were measured relative to the gold. Reactions such as the dissolution of iron sul-
the saturated calomel electrode and are quoted as such. phide consume oxygen, and it is therefore possible
The solutions were equilibrated by the bubbling of the that, in the presence of partially roasted calcine con-
required gas through the solution prior to each run. All taining large quantities of iron sulphide, an oxygen
the experiments were carried out at ambient tempera- deficiency occurs in solution. However, the use of
ture, i.e. approximately 220. The gold electrode was oxygen instead of air as the oxidant had no effect on the
polished with alumina paste before each experiment.
extent of the reaction after 24 hours. If any oxygen
Analysis deficiency had been the cause of the poor extraction from
The solutions were analysed by atomic-absorption partially roasted calcine, additional dissolution would
spectrophotometry. Gold in the calcines was analysed be expected in the presence of an oxygen atmosphere.
by the fire-assay methods and sulphur by the Leco A second experiment, in which 25 g of partially
combustion technique. The concentrations of residual roasted calcine A and 25 g of calcine were mixed prior to
cyanide were determined by titration with silver nitrate, leaching, yielded the same gold extraction as would have
potassium iodide being used as the indicator. been expected if the materials had been treated
Results and Discussion separately. If an oxygen deficiency occurred during the
leaching of the partially roasted calcine, it should also
The extraction of gold from the various head materials
have affected the dissolution of gold from the calcine
when the two were combined in the same leaching vessel.
TABLE Il The consumption of oxygen is therefore not the principal
EFFECT OF THE SULPHUR CONTENT ON THE EXTRACTION OF GOLD reason for the poor extractions from partially roasted
Leaching conditions calcine.
Solids: 50g NaCN: 2,5g CaO: 2,5g H2O: lOOml Time: 24h Physical Encapsulation
Sulphur Gold When pyrite is roasted, the particles become porous
Material extraction owing to a change in structure and volume of the solid.
% % This is illustrated by the increase in surface areas
Pyrite concentrate 43 17 recorded in Table IV. The gold extraction increases with
Partially roasted calcine A 13,5 28
Partially roasted calcine B 6,7 40
this increasing porosity, and it is therefore possible that
Calcine 0,1 82 the poor gold extraction from pyrite and partially
roasted calcine may be due to physical encapsulation of

the current-potential curve for a freshly polished gold
. - CIIlclne electrode immersed in a pure solution and scanned
anodically afterwards. After the electrode has stood in
the solution for several minutes, or when lead or
thallium salts have been added, Curve A (Fig. 2) is
obtained for the current-potential curve. Scanning of the
---t Partially roeatad calclna B
potential of the gold surface (A) to a value of -O,4V,
PartiallyroealadcalclnaA followed immediately by another potential sweep from
-O,9V, yields a curve similar to that of B. The reason
- Pyriteconcentrata for this behaviour is not well understood but, for the
purposes of this paper, the two distinct forms of gold
surface can be adequately described as active and passive.
When held at a potential cathodic to -O,6V, passive
4 24 gold usually reverts to the active state, whereas active
h gold becomes passive at potentials anodic to -O,6V.
Fig. I-Rates of gold dissolution A comparison of the current-potential curve for the
reduction of oxygen on the surface of the gold with the
TABLE IV curves for the oxidation of active and passive gold
THE EFFECT OF ROASTING AND GRINDING ON SURFACE AREAS surfaces shows that in both cases dissolution will occur
Leaching conditions at a current of approximately 200 Since the
Solids: 5,Og NaCN: 2,5g CaO: 2,5g Time: 24h size and shape of the gold particles in a calcine are not
known, this figure cannot be converted direct into a
Before grinding Mter grinding leaching rate, but it is clear that the rate is reasonably
Material Surface Gold Surface Gold high.
area extrac- area extrac- Mineralogical studies of the calcine particles indicate
tion tion that the gold is present in intimate contact with the
m2.g-1 % m2.g-1 %
surrounding minerals. If the contacting mineral is
Pyrite 0,9 17 6,4 71 electrically conductive, the reduction of oxygen can take
Partially roasted place over the entire surface of the mineral. The magni-
calcine B 2,1 40 7,5 72
Calcine 3,0 82 7,9 87 tude of the current for the reduction of oxygen may
exceed that for the oxidation of gold in the region
cathodic to the potential where the passivation of gold
occurs. This is illustrated schematically in Fig. 3, from
the gold. This possibility is supported by the rate of which it can be seen that, under these conditions, the
reaction illustrated in Fig. 1. The initial gold extraction mixed potential at which dissolution occurs is shifted to
is fast for all the samples but virtually ceases after 1 an anodic value and the gold 8urface is passivated. The
hour, thus indicating that a proportion of the gold is rate of dissolution of gold under these conditions is slow.
readily amenable to dissohition but that, for some The approximate conductivities of the minerals asso-
reason, the remainder is unable to dissolve readily in the ciated with the gold on the concentrate and the calcine
cyanide. are illustrated in Table V. Magnetite, pyrite, and
When the samples were ground yery fine, the gold ex- pyrrhotite have high conductivities, whereas hematite is
tractions were higher. However, despite their consider- virtually an insulator. Gold that is in contact with
ably higher surface areas, the extractions from finely magnetite, pyrite, and pyrrhotite would be expected to
ground pyrite and partially roasted calcines were still sig-
nificantly lower than from the untreated calcine. This
indicates that exposure and, possibly, complete libera-
Anodc conditione
tion of the gold from the pyrite and partially roasted Au, O,2M NaCN, pH
= 12,4, Argon,
5OOr.mln-', 22 'C, 10mV.o-'
calcine increases its ability to dissolve, but that some
factor is still responsible for the poor dissolution of the
gold. The exposure of gold caused by the breaking of (A)
Active Au
particles during the roasting process is significant, since
it contributes to the improved gold extraction. However,
it is not the only contributing factor. 1000
Passivation of Gold in the Calcine Au +2CN---Au(CN);..- '1
500 -=
The oxidation of gold in a cyanide solution is a complex
reaction that has not yet been explained satisfactorily.
All the workers in this field have shown that oxidation -0,4 E, V(SCE)
initially follows normal Tafel behaviour, but that passi-
vation occurs as the potential is shifted anodically. The 4e- + 0. + 2H,O-40W CIIthodlc conditione
anodic current achieved prior to passivation is dependent Au, pH
on the cyanide concentration and on the con~entration Fig. 2-Current-potential curves for gold oxidation and
ofthe impurities in solutions. Curve B in Fig. 2 illustrates oxygen reduction

passivate as a result of the enhanced magnitude of the TABLE VI

In completely oxidized calcine, only hematite is Leaching conditions

Solids: 50g NaCN: 2,5g CaO: 2,5g Temperature: 22C
present; hence, oxygen would not be reduced except at H2O: 1O0ml
the surface of the gold. Dissolution of the gold would not
be retarded under these conditions. In the presence of Gold extracted
other conducting minerals (i.e. in partially roasted calcine Material
and pyrite), the gold-dissolution current could be 24 h 21 d
expected to drop to below 1Op, Again, the particle Calcine 82 82
size of the gold in the calcine is not known, and this Partially roasted calcine B 40 65
Pyrite concentrate 17 28
value cannot be converted direct into a leaching rate. Reduced calcine 60 N.D.
However, the rate will be much slower than that for the
dissolution of unpassivated gold. Fig. 1 indicates that the- N.D. - Not determined
dissolution of active gold probably takes only a few
hours; that of passive gold should take several days.
Mrkusic3 has suggested that the passivation of ~ld is gold is therefore amenable to complete dissolution
due to film formation, and that this film results from within the 24-hour leaching period. However, the reduc-
dissolved components of the calcine. This appears tion in gold dissolution recorded from pyrite and partially
unlikely, since current-potential curves for the oxidation roasted calcine cannot be wholly attributed to these
of gold in pure solutions are very similar to those in reasons as will be explained later.
solutions arising from leaches in which poor gold extrac- Confirmation of the passivation mechanism for the
tions occurred. However, it is possible that dissolved retardation of gold dissolution was obtained in two
components from individual ores may have a slight effect experiments (Table VI). In the first experiment, the
on the rate of dissolution, it having been found 5 that the three head materials were leached for a period of 21 days.
dissolution current of gold prior to passivation depends No further dissolution occurred from the fully oxidized
on impurities in the solution (e.g. lead, thallium, mer- calcine, but significant dissolution occurred from the
cury, and bismuth.) This would change the tendency of partially roasted calcine and the pyrite concentrate,
gold to go into the passive state. indicating that a very slow reaction was taking place. If
The enhanced dissolution of gold from pyrite and the low dissolution from these materials in the first 24
partially roasted calcines subsequent to fine grinding can hours were due purely to physical encapsulation, no
be explained partially in terms of the passivation of gold. additional leaching would occur. The extraction of gold
As the material is ground, increasing amounts of gold are from the calcine was unchanged after the extended
separated from the conductive host materials and no period, which indicates that the remainder of the gold is
longer passivate during leaching, since the reduction of not accessible to the leaching solution. After 21 days one
oxygen occurs on a relatively smaller surface area. This would expect, from the relative dissolution currents, all
the exposed but passivated gold to be dissolved. The
extraction from the pyrite and partially roasted calcine
TABLE V was significantly lower than that from the calcine,
showing that a proportion of the gold had not been
exposed to the leaching solution. This confirms that
Mineral Conductivity
S.m-l physical encapsulation is part of the reason for poor gold
extractions from partially roasted calcine.
Hematite 10-' to I The base-metal concentration in solution after the
Magnetite 2 + 10'
Pyrite 1 + 10' extended leaching period was not significantly different
Pyrrhotite 10' from that after 24 hours. The additional dissolution of
The values are averages of those given by Shuey6 gold recorded for pyrite and partially roasted calcine is
therefore not considered to be due to the dissolution of
the minerals that encapsulate the gold.
Au + 2CN- -Au(CN)i + e- In the second experiment, a sample of calcine was
reduced under hydrogen gas at 700C to a material
containing a proportion of magnetite. The dissolution of
gold from this material in 24 hours was significantly less
E (Table VI), although the surface area was unchanged by
the pretreatment. This can be attributed only to the
tm slower dissolution of the gold in contact with magnetite
and, hence, in its passive state.
The passivation of gold in cyanide media is known. It
was used by Cathro7 to explain the decrease in the
4e- + O. + 2H.O- 4OH-
dissolution rate of gold when the atmosphere was
changed from air to oxygen, and was suggested by
Fig. J-Current-potential curves in the presence of additional Mrkusic3 as one of several possible reasons for poor gold
cathodic area extractions. In the present work it has been shown to be

one of the reasons for the effect of incomplete roasting Acknowled~ements
on the subsequent dissolution of gold. This incomplete This paper is published by permission of the Council
roasting also limits the exposure of the gold to the for Mineral Technology. The author thanks Miss K. Sole
leaching solution. In practice, the only way in which the for conducting most of the experimental work, and Drs
subsequent gold dissolution can be optimized is the M. J. Nicol and R. L. Paul for helpful discussions.
production of an extensively oxidized calcine, or dissolu- References
tion of the incompletely oxidized material prior to 1. NoRwooD, A. F. B. Roasting and treatment of auriferous
cyanidation. flotation concentrates. Proc. Australas. Inst. Min. Metall.,
vo1. 115. 1939. pp. 391.412.
2. HANSEN, K. R. N., and LASCHINGER, J. E. The roasting of
refractory gold ores and concentrates. Literature survey.
Conclusions Johannesburg, National Institute for Metallurgy, Report 85.
3. MRCUSIC P. D. P., and PAYNTER, J. The recovery of gold
The poor extraction of gold from incompletely roasted from sulphidic and arsenical ores mainly from the Barberton
calcines can be attributed partly to incomplete develop- area. Johannesburg, National Institute for Metallurgy,
ment of the pore structure. However, there is another Report 911. 1970.
4. HANF, N. W., and SCHMIDT,C. G. The roasting and leaching
reason for the observed behaviour: passivation of the of Witwatersrand pyrite concentrates. J.B. Afr. Inst. Min.
gold caused by an increase in the possible surface area Metall., 1979. pp. 365-371.
upon which the reduction of oxygen can occur. Deple- 5. NICOL,M. J. The anodic behaviour of gold. Part (II). Gold
Bull., vo1. 3.1980. pp. 105-111.
tion of the oxygen in solution and excessive consumption 6. SHUEY, R. T. Semiconducting ore minerals. Developments in
of cyanide did not play any role in the experiment carried economic geology "01. 4. Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1975.
7. CATHRO,K. J. 'I h" \Jffect of oxygen in the cyanide process for
out in this study but may decrease the dissolution rates gold recovery, Proc, Australas. Inst. Min. Metall., vo!. 207.
on a plant scale. 1963. pp. 181-205.

Precious metals
The International Precious Metals Institute (IPMI) serving mankind tomorrow'.
has announced that its Sixth International Conference is Enquiries should be directed to IPMI, 2254 Barrington
to be held in Newport Beach, California, from 7th to Road, Bethlehem, PA 18018, U.S.A.
11th June, 1982. The theme is 'Precious metals today

Fluid engineering
BHRA Fluid Engineering will hold an international slender tubes, which are closely spaced, and higher fluid
conference on Flow Induced Vibrations in Fluid Engin- flowrates. Tube failures caused by excessive vibrations
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The occasional, but well publicized, failure of an offshore environments.
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